Read Fleeced: A Regan Reilly Mystery Online

Authors: Carol Higgins Clark

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #detective, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery fiction, #Women Sleuths, #New York (N.Y.), #Reilly; Regan (Fictitious character), #Women private investigators, #Women private investigators - New York (State) - New York

Fleeced: A Regan Reilly Mystery (3 page)

4

Here we are, Princess of Love,” Maldwin Feckles declared as he carried a tray with hot coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, and flakey croissants into his employer’s darkened bedroom. “Time to rise and shine and fix people up.” He placed the tray on a table next to the king-size bed and opened the drapes.

Lydia ’s eyes fluttered as she groaned. “What time is it?”

“It’s 8:00 A.M. The time you instructed me to serve you breakfast.”

“Was I dreaming, or did what happened last night really happen?”

Maldwin sighed. He was a short man with rigid posture, tufts of dark hair that given half a chance would be sprouting willy-nilly from the sides of his head but were held in place by industrial-strength gel, and a face of baby-smooth white skin. “I’m afraid our neighbor Nat did in fact pass over.”

“‘Pass over’ isn’t the word,” Lydia said as she sat up. “He departed this planet in a most dramatic fashion.” Her mouth broke into a wide yawn as she reached for the pink feather bed jacket that went over the top of her pink silk nightgown. Ever since she inherited two million dollars from an elderly neighbor in Hoboken she’d not only moved into a penthouse apartment in New York City, but she’d also launched a full scale dating service, aptly named Meaningful Connections, with matchmaking parties held in her own elegant home. She’d also decided that she must always dress the part of the Princess of Love.

It was all so hard to believe.

At the ripe old age of thirty-eight, Lydia ’s wildest dreams had come true. She’d gone from living in a little studio apartment on the wrong side of the tracks to having a butler who was devoted to her. All because she’d run some errands for Mrs. Cerencioni, who seemed as if she didn’t have enough money to pay the light bill.

Of course, Lydia had unfortunately hooked up with a gold-digger who was her boyfriend for about five minutes before she managed to shake him loose. But he still left messages on her machine and sent love notes in the mail. It was wildly embarrassing.

But now things could get even worse. After all the money she’d invested into fixing up the apartment and setting up her business, there was the danger that the club might have to close its doors and sell the building. Just when she and Maldwin were getting their respective businesses on track, she’d have to find a new place to live and work. And to think the club could have been saved by the diamonds they’d heard all the gossip about last night and that now were among the missing.

“All that confusion and death,” Lydia said as she picked up her orange-juice glass and tapped it with her long red fingernails. “Do you think people might be afraid to come to my parties now?”

Maldwin fluffed the pillow behind her dyed blond hair. “It was excitement that can only help. No one will ever accuse you of throwing parties that are dull. After all, matchmaking should have an air of mystery.”

“But what if the papers report that some of my guests were disturbed by the arrival of the police?”

“As long as they spell your name right. And the name of my butler school,” Maldwin sniffed. “Miss Lydia, remember what we decided when we joined forces.”

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

“Exactly.” Maldwin walked to the door of the bedroom.

“But Maldwin, I’m worried.”

Maldwin waited.

“If we have to find a new place to live, it’ll be very expensive. My stationery cost a fortune. And people get used to coming to a certain location for these parties. Being in Gramercy Park gave them a certain je ne sais quoi.”

Maldwin flinched. He couldn’t stand it when she threw in her schoolgirl French. Her accent was awful.

“I know, Princess,” he said. “But we must go on. Tomorrow night’s party should attract new members to the club. And hopefully, those diamonds will be recovered and we can continue on as we are now.” He smoothed back his hair and adjusted his pinkie ring. “My students are arriving soon. We’re leaving for a field trip to a town full of antique shops in western New Jersey. I expect we’ll be back later this afternoon.”

Lydia grumbled. “And I’m going to exercise class. Don’t forget. Tonight we have to go to Stanley ’s studio for the interview. He wants to air the special on the club and us this Sunday night. How many viewers does he have on that cable show?”

“I’m afraid neighborhood free-access channels do not draw the masses, Princess of Love. But it’s a start.”

“I’ve come a long way from my studio apartment with no closet space,” Lydia mused. “And Maldwin, I don’t want to go back.”

“We will make our businesses flourish, Miss Lydia,” Maldwin said formally, “at any cost.”

They laughed nervously together. He gave a short, courtly bow and shut the door.

5

Regan stepped out of the shower, dressed quickly, and dried her hair. She turned off the hair dryer, placed it on her dresser, and heard her cell phone ringing.

It was Jack. Regan smiled at the sound of his voice. She pictured his face with its hazel eyes and even features, framed by sandy hair that curled at the ends. He was six feet two inches tall, with broad shoulders and an undeniable charisma. Keenly intelligent and quick-witted, he also had a sense of humor that had developed from growing up in a large family. Thirty-four years old, Jack had been raised in Bedford, New York, graduated from Boston College, and had surprised his family by following his grandfather into the field of law enforcement.

Jack’s grandfather had been a New York police lieutenant. In the twelve years since college, Jack had risen through the ranks from patrolman to captain and head of the Major Case Squad. He had also picked up two master’s degrees, and his goal was to become police commissioner of New York.

“How was your dinner last night?” Regan asked.

“Let’s just say I would rather have been with you. I heard a lot of boring speeches, then drove back to the city from Long Island. I didn’t get home until almost two.”

“Well, you’ll never believe what I’ve gotten involved in.”

“I was about to say the same thing.”

Regan sat on the bed. “You first.”

Jack paused. “I have to fly to London tonight. There’s a case over there I have to take a look at for my buddy at Scotland Yard. But I’ll be back by Sunday.”

Regan felt a sharp stab of disappointment. I guess I’ll get to enjoy more expectation and anticipation, she thought, but said, “I’m leaving Monday.”

“I know. I’m coming with you.”

Regan laughed. “Oh really?”

“If you’ll have me. I get a few days off and I want to be with you.”

“I want to be with you too,” Regan said. “ L.A. on Monday sounds great.”

“What did you get yourself involved in?” Jack asked. “There’s not another man, I hope.”

Regan laughed. “Another guy called but it’s not anything to worry about.” She relayed to him the conversation with Thomas.

“So you’re on the job this weekend too. Let me pick you up and take you down to Gramercy Park,” Jack said quickly. “I can’t wait until Sunday to see you.”

“I was about to say the same thing.”

Jack laughed. “I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Regan hung up the phone. There is a God, she thought.

6

Thomas Pilsner sat at his desk in his office on the first floor of the Settlers’ Club, wringing his hands. Normally the sight of his Oriental rug, faded leather club chairs, and handsome rolltop desk soothed him. But not today. His mind was racing, and his heart was beating at a rate that would only have been acceptable if he had just finished a run around Gramercy Park.

How he loved it here. Gramercy Park, with its graceful trees, shady lawns, cast-iron gates, and flagstone sidewalks, was like a mirage just steps from Midtown Manhattan. The park was the cloistered centerpiece of the neighborhood. It was a landmark that had been called the cherished jewel in the crown that is New York City. Original town houses in Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Victorian Gothic surrounded the park, and one of the city’s earliest apartment houses had been built on its southeast corner.

Everyone who lived on the square received a key to the gate of the private park-a two acre haven of pastoral charm, accessible only to bordering property owners.

People felt as if they were stepping into another century when they rounded the corner and the park came into view. Noise receded, and time moved much more slowly. The chaos and confusion of the city seemed to disappear as the skyscrapers and traffic jams were left behind.

This place feels like anything but a haven now, Thomas thought miserably. Why didn’t I live here a hundred years ago, when the writers and painters and architects all made their homes in these beautiful buildings and life was so much more civilized? When the club didn’t have all these financial difficulties?

Thomas blew his nose and willed himself to be calm. Regan’s coming, he thought. She’ll help me with all this.

The phone on his desk rang.

“Regan Reilly is here,” the security guard told him.

“Send her in.”

 

Jack’s arm was around Regan’s shoulder as he guided her up the staircase to the main floor and down the hall to Thomas’s office.

“This doesn’t sound like it qualifies for the Major Case Squad, but I’m anxious to hear what’s going on,” he said to Regan.

Thomas greeted them at the door. “Regan,” he cried, “not a moment too soon.”

Regan introduced Thomas to Jack. They sat down in the chairs across the desk from Thomas.

“Jack has to leave soon,” Regan said, “but he’s with the Major Case Squad in Manhattan and is a good friend of mine. He’s here to help us.”

Thomas gave Jack the once-over. “I need all the help I can get.”

“I’ve already filled Jack in on everything you told me,” Regan said. “What else can you tell us about what’s been going on around here?”

“I was hired last September, after I graduated from business school, to try and bring some new life to this club. The place might not look it on the surface, but it’s falling apart! It needs so much work, and it needs new members. With all the health clubs springing up, people aren’t joining the old clubs anymore.”

Regan nodded her head as if urging him to continue.

“I’ve done everything I can to drag people in here. A movie company is even using the front parlor this afternoon to shoot scenes for their latest film. We’re having a gala anniversary party here tomorrow night. The club is one hundred years old. That’s why Nat and Ben decided to make the donation now. It would have brought such excitement and publicity. It was our only chance. I’d even lined up a couple of reporters to come over and cover the party. But now there’s no donation, and I have to try and hide the fact that there was probably a murder and a robbery here! Who would want to join a club where these terrible things have happened?” Thomas broke the pencil he was holding in his hands and dropped the pieces on the desk. His upper lip was starting to sweat.

“How many apartments are on this guy’s floor?” Regan asked.

“Just two. They’re the penthouses.”

“Was there anyone home across the hall last night?” Jack asked.

Thomas rolled his eyes. “Was there ever! The woman who lives there has singles parties. She started a matchmaking service. She was having a little do last night.”

“Well, someone from the party could have gotten access to Pemrod’s apartment,” Regan suggested.

“She also has a butler who runs a butler school up there. He only has a few students, but they were working at the party. When the police helped me downstairs after I fainted, everyone was standing around. It was terrible!”

“Could you have left the door open when you ran downstairs after discovering Nat’s body?” Regan asked. “There would have been time for someone to steal the diamonds and get out before the police arrived.”

“I suppose,” Thomas said slowly. “I was in such a state. It’s not every day that you find someone floating in the tub. I should just have called the police from there…”

Regan sighed. “Were there people in the hallway before word got out about Nat’s death?”

“People were going out to the terrace at the end of the hall to smoke. Lydia doesn’t let people smoke in her apartment.”

“And people had heard about the existence of the diamonds?” Jack asked.

“Apparently the place was buzzing with the news.”

“Maybe Nat or Ben told someone of their plans,” Regan said. “That’s the kind of secret that’s hard to keep. What about Nat’s next of kin?”

“I just spoke to his only relative, a brother who lives in Palm Springs. His name is Carl Pemrod. He knew nothing about the diamonds. He can’t travel anymore, so he won’t make it out here. Nat’s body will be cremated. Carl wants you to call him, Regan. I have his number for you. He met your mother once when she spoke at the library out there. He said you’re welcome to stay in the apartment and do what you need to do.”

Regan raised her eyes. “Stay in the apartment?”

“Yes. There was a flood in our guest suite in the basement, and it smells kind of musty. Or else you can stay in my apartment, but I only have one bedroom. I can sleep on the couch.”

“No,” Regan said almost too quickly. “I’ll stay up there. I assume the police have no problem with that.”

“They didn’t declare it a crime scene! I wish they had!”

“It has two bedrooms and baths?” Regan asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. I’d prefer not to use the bathroom he was found in.”

The phone on Thomas’s desk rang. As he picked it up, Jack reached over and grabbed Regan’s hand. “I’ve got to go. Walk outside with me.”

Regan followed him out into the hallway, down the steps, and out the front door. The day suddenly felt chillier, and the sky was a more ominous gray.

Jack reached over and pulled on the lapels of Regan’s jacket. “I wish I didn’t have to go away.”

“Not more than me.” Regan leaned her head against Jack’s shoulder. “That apartment is going to be lonely and eerie when I’m here all by myself.”

Jack laughed and put his arms around her. “Lock the doors, baby. I’m going to call over to the 13th Precinct and talk to whoever was here last night. As soon as I do, I’ll let you know and get you the reports. Stay in touch with those guys.”

“Well, it sounds to me like this is going to be my investigation. It doesn’t seem like they’re pursuing it.”

“No sign of forced entry. Jewelry left out. No letter of intent about the diamonds. Old guy slips in the tub. They might be operating under the assumption that there was no crime.”

“But I believe Thomas. Those diamonds have to be somewhere.”

“Even if they are, if the bequest isn’t in Nat’s will, then the diamonds would go to his brother.”

Regan shrugged. “I’ll look into it all.” She smiled up at him. “I think we’re both going to have some weekend.”

Jack leaned down and kissed her. “Sunday will be the best part.”

Regan turned and peered up at the club. It had a slightly foreboding look. “If I make it to Sunday,” she said.

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